Mental Toughness For Long Distance Swimming and H2Open Magazine Launch

Swimming a very long event such as the 35km English Channel is an incredible physical undertaking but it is also extremely tough mentally. The sheer distances, the hard training, the loneliness of the event and the cold water create considerable challenges for any swimmer. How do long distance swimmers cope? This fascinating article written by Professors Greg Whyte and Andy Lane explains and gives you some of their techniques that you can use in your own training and racing, whatever the distances and environment:

www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/david-walliams-endurance-swimming-coach-reveals-all-39465

You may know Prof. Whyte as comedian David Walliam's coach when he swam the English Channel. He was also one of Paul Newsome's exercise physiologists at Bath University on the British Triathlon Team.

Also this week we bring exciting news of the launch of a new UK based open water swimming magazine: H2Open. We've written some articles for the new magazine and are very impressed with the list of contributors - it will be a fantastic read. If you've largely been a pool-based swimmer to date we know you'll find the new magazine a great inspiration for training and racing in the great outdoors!


Find out more about the magazine here: www.h2openmagazine.com
And subscribe here (UK or international): www.escosubs.co.uk/h2open/index.asp

Congrats to Simon Griffiths and his team on the launch!

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Lance Armstrong's Stroke

This week on the blog we're going to do something slightly different and look at the stroke of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. Some of you may already have seen the clip of Lance's stroke that appeared on YouTube about ten days ago. The video was taken whilst he swam in the ocean in Kona, Hawaii, the venue for the Ironman World Championship.

We know many triathletes are extremely excited at the possibility of Lance racing in Kona this October, so we thought we'd critique the clip, highlight the strengths of how he swims and maybe even provide a few pointers to tweak up his stroke a little.

Paul Newsome runs his analysis here:



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When Not To Breathe Bilaterally

Last week on Feel For The Water we discussed how stroke problems normally occur when you go to breathe. As distance swimmers we need to breathe between every two and five strokes to get sufficient oxygen: if you can breathe bilaterally it really helps keep you stay symmetrical and iron-out those stroke flaws when breathing.

It's not always easy to switch to bilateral breathing but we know from the flood of feedback we had after last week's post that many of you have made the switch and are getting there nicely with it - well done to you! We call the process the 'Two Week Bilateral Hump' as it normally takes about 6 sessions - or two weeks - before bilateral starts to feel right. So give yourself a little time to adapt to breathing both ways.

If bilateral breathing is so good, how come many elite swimmers and professional triathletes only breathe to one side when racing? Here are three key reasons:

Conditions: Breathing away from chop, waves and blinding sunshine is very important in open water. This technique is well documented in triathlon magazines and makes perfect sense - no one wants a mouth full of water when they go to inhale!

Drafting: Drafting can save you between 15 and 38% of your energy expenditure (Delextrat et al. 2003) and there are two ways of doing it. The first is to sit directly behind your competitor, the second way is to place yourself tight in to their side:


This tight-alongside position can give you an even greater draft than sitting behind but you do have to be very close in. The key to getting so close is to only breathe towards the lead swimmer so you can judge the distance and follow their every move.

Tactically: Watch very carefully and many of the world's elite pool swimmers will breathe every two strokes but then swap sides every length to keep an eye on their main rival. They do this so they can instantly respond to accelerations and attacks.

What do these three points have in common? You need to be able to breathe to the left OR the right depending on the circumstances. If you can only breathe to one side then you're severely limiting yourself tactically in these race situations. Most elite swimmers practise bilateral breathing in training to develop a rhythmical symmetrical stroke. Some will treat bilateral breathing as a drill in itself and you could certainly look at it this way.

Aside from race tactics, being straight and symmetrical is a huge advantage in open water because it helps you swim straight - if you've read our classic blog post on this you'll know how important this is! Even if you don't breathe bilaterally when racing your stroke will hold together and be symmetrical provided you've swum the bulk of your training this way. Plus, by swimming straighter, you won't have to lift your head and sight forwards so often - which tends to sink your legs and so add drag.

To wrap up, the take-home points from this two-part blog are:

- Breathe bilaterally for most of your training and you naturally start to remove stroke flaws from your stroke and become much more symmetrical. Not only does this improve your stroke technique, it helps you swim straighter in open water.

- Being able to breathe to both sides opens up your tactical options when racing which will translate into faster times and better placings.

We asked our Smooth Swim Type "poster boy" Jono Van Hazel why he breathes bilaterally and he simply replied "because it keeps my stroke straight and symmetrical". If you've recently received our new Catch Masterclass DVD and seen Jono swim then you can't argue with how aligned and symmetrical this awesome technician is.


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If Something's Going To Go Wrong In Your Stroke, It'll Go Wrong When...

What do all these stroke flaws have in common? :

swimmer1
pushing down and wide
swimmer2 collapsing arm
swimmer3 scissor kick and crossover
swimmer4 scissor kick and over-rotation
swimmer5 straight arm push down
swimmer6 crossover

If you said "breathing", then you're correct. In fact most stroke flaws happen during or immediately following breathing because you're simply thinking "give me that air!" and not focusing on the rest of your stroke.

Breathing is such a distraction and interruption to the freestyle stroke that it even disrupts an elite swimmer's rhythm and efficiency. This is why 50m sprinters minimise the number of breaths they take - often only taking one or two during their 50m dash. As distance swimmers we have to breathe much more often than once or twice per lap but this highlights the significant challenge to our stroke technique when breathing.

What can we do to minimise this problem? Firstly, try and avoid always breathing to the same side every two strokes. If you do this then some very critical areas of your stroke never get any of your attention and are very likely to be major weak points in your technique. For instance, if you breathe only to your right every two strokes then your left hand catch never gets any attention because you're always breathing simultaneously with it. Such a swimmer will tend to develop bad habits on that side, such as pressing down on the water or dropping their elbow, greatly harming their speed and efficiency in the water.

Switching to breathing every three strokes (bilateral breathing) greatly helps you because two out of three left arm strokes are now non-breathing strokes and can get your full attention. When it comes to the one in three that are during a breath, your stroke will stand a very good chance of holding together nicely:

breathing and non breathing strokes
Bilateral breathing helps Mel Benson perfectly maintain her stroke when breathing

Breathing every three strokes is about the right interval for most swimmers when they've developed good exhalation into the water. Very tall swimmers who've tried to overly lengthen their stroke may find bilateral breathing a challenge because their stroke rate is simply too slow and the time between breaths too long. Conversely, shorter swimmers with naturally faster stroke rates often settle happily into a pattern of breathing every five strokes.

If you have worked on your exhalation into the water and still find bilateral breathing hard then consider your body roll at this point of the stroke. If you're flat in the water to your non-dominant side then that will make breathing very challenging. Think about extending and rotating to this off-side and breathing to it will start to feel much easier.

Coaches: have you noticed that a swimmer's breathing technique often looks much better to the non-dominant side? This is because bad habits such as lifting or over-rotating the head have never developed on that side. If you see this with a swimmer then feed that back to them to give them encouragement to get over the 'bilateral hump', which normally lasts about 6 sessions.

Next week on the blog we're going to look at tactical situations in races when breathing to one side is advantageous, explaining why we see many elite swimmers breathing just to one side on TV.

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If Something's Going To Go Wrong In Your Stroke, It'll Go Wrong When...

** Don't forget our FREE INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING ON DVDs offer finishes on Jan 10th! - includes our amazing new DVD Catch Masterclass **

What do all these stroke flaws have in common? :

swimmer1
pushing down and wide
swimmer2 collapsing arm
swimmer3 scissor kick and crossover
swimmer4 scissor kick and over-rotation
swimmer5 straight arm push down
swimmer6 crossover

If you said "breathing", then you're correct. In fact most stroke flaws happen during or immediately following breathing because you're simply thinking "give me that air!" and not focusing on the rest of your stroke.

Breathing is such a distraction and interruption to the freestyle stroke that it even disrupts an elite swimmer's rhythm and efficiency. This is why 50m sprinters minimise the number of breaths they take - often only taking one or two during their 50m dash. As distance swimmers we have to breathe much more often than once or twice per lap but this highlights the significant challenge to our stroke technique when breathing.

What can we do to minimise this problem? Firstly, try and avoid always breathing to the same side every two strokes. If you do this then some very critical areas of your stroke never get any of your attention and are very likely to be major weak points in your technique. For instance, if you breathe only to your right every two strokes then your left hand catch never gets any attention because you're always breathing simultaneously with it. Such a swimmer will tend to develop bad habits on that side, such as pressing down on the water or dropping their elbow, greatly harming their speed and efficiency in the water.

Switching to breathing every three strokes (bilateral breathing) greatly helps you because two out of three left arm strokes are now non-breathing strokes and can get your full attention. When it comes to the one in three that are during a breath, your stroke will stand a very good chance of holding together nicely:

breathing and non breathing strokes
Bilateral breathing helps Mel Benson perfectly maintain her stroke when breathing

Breathing every three strokes is about the right interval for most swimmers when they've developed good exhalation into the water. Very tall swimmers who've tried to overly lengthen their stroke may find bilateral breathing a challenge because their stroke rate is simply too slow and the time between breaths too long. Conversely, shorter swimmers with naturally faster stroke rates often settle happily into a pattern of breathing every five strokes.

If you have worked on your exhalation into the water and still find bilateral breathing hard then consider your body roll at this point of the stroke. If you're flat in the water to your non-dominant side then that will make breathing very challenging. Think about extending and rotating to this off-side and breathing to it will start to feel much easier.

Coaches: have you noticed that a swimmer's breathing technique often looks much better to the non-dominant side? This is because bad habits such as lifting or over-rotating the head have never developed on that side. If you see this with a swimmer then feed that back to them to give them encouragement to get over the 'bilateral hump', which normally lasts about 6 sessions.

Next week on the blog we're going to look at tactical situations in races when breathing to one side is advantageous, explaining why we see many elite swimmers breathing just to one side on TV.

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